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Idaho student’s terror trial begins

A graduate student in Idaho set up Web sites to help militants recruit followers and raise money, prosecutors said Wednesday at his trial, seen as a test case for a provision of the USA Patriot Act.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Saudi graduate student used his computer expertise to help Islamic terrorists recruit followers and raise money over the Internet, prosecutors said in opening statements at the man’s trial Wednesday.

Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a 34-year-old doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of Idaho, is accused of setting up and running Web sites that supported the Palestinian militant group Hamas and organizations that advocate attacks on the United States.

“With his expertise and expert advice, he created for them the vehicle for the recruitment and funding of terrorism,” federal prosecutor Kim Lindquist told the jury. “The Internet is an integral part of logistical support for extreme jihad, terrorism, around the world.”

Attorney depicts respected leader
Al-Hussayen has denied any wrongdoing. Defense attorney David Nevin depicted him as a respected Muslim leader in the university community, telling jurors that the government was giving them only a small part of the Internet picture.

The main Web site relied on by prosecutors to charge Al-Hussayen is “the most popular site in all of Islam,” Nevin said.

“These are not terrorist Web sites,” he said. “They are general news and religious Web sites.”

He also argued that whatever the views on the sites, the Constitution protects the right to express them.

Prohibition on ‘expert advice or assistance’
The case is seen as a key test of a USA Patriot Act provision that prohibits offering “expert advice or assistance” to foreign terrorist groups.

Al-Hussayen also has been accused of maintaining bank accounts in four states to funnel money to a Michigan-based organization that federal agents said has links to terrorists.

The government also has filed visa fraud and false statement charges against Al-Hussayen.

The terrorism counts are punishable by up to 15 years each, the visa fraud charges by up to 25 years each, and the false-statement counts by five years each.